Over the past two years, we have seen most technology companies undergo several transitions from office-based work, to full-remote to hybrid work models. Clearly, the parameters around work have changed forever. And with that, many skilled professionals want to maintain some form of regular flexibility.
According to a recent study by Hays, only 7% of those who worked remotely during the pandemic want to return to work full-time. Many employers seem to accept the idea of periodic flexibility: in 12 month's time, 63% would like their staff to work remotely for one, two or three days, the rest being in the office.
It is safe to say that the office is not what it used to be. Today, people expect more flexibility from their employers. This can mean remote roles for some, but for many staff and managers, flexibility means working in hybrid environments.
As remote work is becoming more standardized, many leaders have adopted more flexible work policies, allowing for work from home to be part of the hybrid experience.
While team management is almost always challenging, hybrid work environments present distinct challenges. When employees work only part-time in person, it becomes even more crucial to create a strong sense of belonging and culture. In addition, managers often have to find ways to maintain and measure productivity at different times without the crutch of face-to-face communication.
Whether you’re managing a hybrid team for the first time or have experience, there’s always room for improvement. Abandoning traditional leadership ideas is often the hardest hurdle to overcome, but it’s vital with hybrid teams.
According to several studies and analyses conducted by HBR, Forbes and Linda Hill - a professor at Harvard Business School, this is the main topic you need to consider when managing your team in a hybrid work model. Here are four ways to better manage a hybrid work environment.
With hybrid work models expected to remain a long-term solution within flexible-first organizations, how should managers best lead their employees.
As most studies say, flexibility is integral to hybrid work - and therefore, it is a major key to managing a hybrid team. But it’s important to keep in mind that there are different types of flexibility, including location and time.
Great management in a location flexible hybrid model means managing your team regardless of each member’s physical whereabouts. The most important thing here is being aware of which types of collaboration are appropriate at different moments in project lifecycles.
For example, Linda Hill - Harvard Business School, suggests holding a regular “Monday Huddle” where you prioritize the most important work that needs to be completed that week, and whether it can be done in person or remotely. In addition, it’s helpful to have regular touchpoints - whether in person or remotely - to discuss team workloads and individual deliverables.
Another consideration with this type of flexibility is ensuring the same level of inclusion, communication and engagement in person and remotely for each employee - especially during key management moments like team meetings and one-on-ones.
For example, if you hold an in-person team meeting and one person can’t join, make sure to either have them call in via video conference or provide a summary and key takeaways so that they don’t miss out on any crucial information or feel excluded.
On a daily basis, time flexibility is materialized by the manager’s ability to implement different routines, remotely or in person - to keep these important moments regardless of the location of his team.
It’s important to talk about how employees plan to structure their work hours. “The end of the day becomes blurry,” says Hill. People who do not work in the office may want flexibility and the freedom to rework their hours, and people in the office may want more structure. Compromises are sometimes necessary.” Your goal as a group is to create and apply a new culture by determining the best way to work in this environment.
But when it comes to team meetings or one-on-one meetings, many team dynamic experts, like Daniel Coyle, strongly recommend that they take place in person, as face-to-face interactions are beneficial to building team cohesion & creativity. In addition, IRL time together can serve individuals in that the proximity between employees and their managers can allow leaders to get a better read on well-being, and take action.
Hybrid is more than a work policy, it's a type of culture that needs to be defined at the organization and the team level. Defining your hybrid culture could mean a lot of things, but the most important here is to set the rules of your hybrid model and make sure everyone feels comfortable with it: Does your team have enough flexibility? Do they keep a sufficient amount of in-person time? Does everybody have enough visibility on people, places and schedules?
These are some of the questions you must answer in order to build a solid hybrid culture that works for more than just the C-level. But it's also about setting the right expectations and routines.
Establish clear expectations and responsibilities for all hybrid employees so that employees at home and in the office can work together productively and know who is doing what.
In this context, you can set daily or weekly virtual meetings with your entire team to start every day or week as required. Communicate key workflows and timelines, and regularly communicate progress to maintain momentum.
Hybrid is also about creating new practices and protocols. “Consider this an opportunity to affirm the aspects of your organization’s culture that you want to be the same, and talk about those that need to be adapted,” says Hill. “Have an explicit discussion about how and when to communicate, who has access to what information, who should attend what meetings and who should be involved in decisions.” Linda recommends reaching agreements on communication standards - should people always include the whole team? Should recipients acknowledge receipt of each message? — and establish guidelines on when to use which channel—email, Slack, phone, etc.
When staff are in different locations, make sure everyone knows and understands where each team member will be working. Sharing work schedules by creating a shared group calendar where employees can identify where they will be working from each day will help increase visibility. It also encourages some people to come to the office on the same day as their closest colleagues. No one comes to the office to work alone, and schedule transparency helps reduce the risk of people wasting their time commuting to an empty office, and helps optimize days spent in the office vs remote.
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Another thing to keep in mind is that individuals who aren't in the office may not be aware of the decisions your staff are making on site or, in fact, decisions made at the management level, so hold a regular, dedicated call to share these details. Ensuring as much transparency as possible will give them a clearer overview of the strategic direction of the organization and the broader team, while minimizing any sense that they feel out of the loop.
In hybrid organizations, people are not always in the office, and so, they need access to tools and support to optimize their work experience, wherever they choose to work from. This means they must have ways to communicate with managers and other team members in real time and asynchronously.
Overall, the use of a tool dedicated to the management of the hybrid organization remains today the best way to involve all employees and guarantee the quality of their hybrid experience: to have visibility on people's schedule, to encourage social interactions, to establish and follow rules related to the hybrid policy, or simply to keep abreast of office life.
In addition to hybrid tools and productivity, there are also tools related to home office expenses: high-speed Internet or equipment such as dual monitors are some of the tools and support a business needs to take care of when choosing a remote or hybrid model.
Companies could also offer hybrid teams mobile technology such as laptops and smartphones loaded with in-house software, including a VPN and collaboration applications. Using cloud-based solutions is another way to make it easier for hybrid employees.
Arranging regular opportunities for your hybrid team members to come together and get to know each other face-to-face can significantly help team unity, harmony and morale.
According to many studies on hybrid work and employee experience, as of 2022, the social aspect of work is still people’s main motivation for going to a physical workspace.
While most of the employees are looking for more flexibility and freedom at work, it seems that the human interactions that employees have when working face-to-face make the office - and thus hybrid work - indispensable for a large majority.
Therefore, in order to be successful in delivering a desired hybrid culture, this must be a highly prioritized aspect of designing a hybrid experience: people must be able to meet, connect, and celebrate together easily - especially with those outside their teams.
Many companies worldwide have executed on this, including Microsoft, which has established the social aspect of work as the best way to bring its employees to the office in the post-pandemic period - and thus maintain a high level of connection within teams.
And every moment, every opportunity, must be seized to bring people together and create real moments of connection that reinforce the sense of cohesion.
The mistake that many companies make is to prioritize in-person moments only between people of the same team: in reality, to improve company-wide cohesion, we must create moments of meaning, where camaraderie and serendipity happen, to help people connect beyond their teams.
>> Learn more about our social hub for hybrid teams
In a hybrid work model, some employees may choose to work primarily or exclusively remotely. These workers miss face-to-face interaction, which means you will need to think carefully about how you can make them feel included in virtual remote meetings as well.
As a remote team, seeing and hearing regularly from the manager will help remote staff feel included and be part of the team.
Similarly, avoid improvised meetings in the office: while water cooler moments provide informal opportunities for collaboration, teamwork and problem solving, they exclude staff who are not in the office that day.
Instead of making decisions in between meetings during water cooler moments, schedule virtual chats, so as to include all relevant stakeholders. This may seem like it requires extra effort, but by involving all the right people in the conversation right from the start, you’ll make sure the best decision is made.
Despite an increase in hybrid and remote work, managers' perceptions of it remain largely negative. When someone is out of sight, they are often out of mind. A SHRM survey reveals that 42% of supervisors sometimes admit to forgetting remote employees when they are distributing tasks.
In addition, 67% of managers believe that remote workers are more reliable than those working in the office full-time.
While hybrid employees are not 100% remote, their in-person schedules may differ from those of colleagues and supervisors. As a result, some team members may be excluded from critical conversations, including new directives or changes. Some employees may be denied high-profile project assignments because they are not as visible.
Managers could also let personal biases about productivity influence performance evaluations. Instead, try to spread the work evenly across jurisdictions and include all key contributors in the project discussions. Don’t just ask who’s in the office while you’re there.
Hybrid environments are a new way of working and a configuration for which managers often feel unprepared. Conventional ideas about leadership and productivity, such as seeing what employees are working on all the time, can be a barrier. By learning to move away from traditional management methods, supervisors of hybrid teams enter into the practice of true leadership principles. The balance between flexibility and autonomy, guidelines and equitable support can be a good start.
At Café, we truly believe the future of work is hybrid.
We designed the ultimate social hub for hybrid teams, to enable employees to shape their hybrid work styles with flexibility, transparency, and interest-based connections at the forefront of each social interaction.
We help hybrid and remote first companies increase workplace connectivity and build efficient, flexible,thriving cultures.
Boost office connectivity with social moments and create strong connections across teams from your social hub in Café.